CAJUN GIRL'S CHRISTMAS
My earliest memory of Christmas holidays at my house is before my little brother was born, so I must have been about four years old. That was the year I got a Dolly Dimple paper doll. This was sort of like the big coloring books that children get from WalMart now. The cover of the book was thin cardboard, and Dolly Dimple was printed on it, just waiting there for some little girl to cut her out. On the pages inside the book were clothes for Dolly Dimple - all sorts of beautiful clothes.
you could say this was a forerunner of today's Barbie. My big sister helped
me to cut out my doll and the clothes. Each piece of clothing had
tabs on the shoulders which folded over, holding the garment securely in
place. All the paper dolls I'd had until that time were the doll
families I cut out of the Montgomery Ward catalog.
I believe it was the following Christmas that I got a big book of nursery rhymes. My sister Dee read them to me, over and over again, and by my next birthday the following May, I could read them myself. I suppose I had just memorized them, but I thought I was reading. The last one in the book was the song "Babes in the Woods," and every time I got to the last stanza, "And when they were dead, the robins so red brought strawberry leaves and over them spread" I was so moved that I could hardly talk without crying. I still remember the words, and though I don't sing very well, I have sung this song to all my children and some of my grandchildren, and I still feel like crying each time I come to the part about the children dying.
I remember how proud I was the first Christmas I was allowed to go to Midnight Mass with the older family members. I must have been all of eight years old. I wish I could recall if I was awake through it all.
We always hung our stockings on the mantle. (And the house we rented from Mr. Gary had a fireplace in every bedroom.) Of course, we didn't get fine rings and bracelets and necklaces and stuff like that, but every one of the younger kids had a juicy red Delicious apple and some bright orange tangerines and pecans and walnuts in his stocking on Christmas morning. (I borrowed one of my mother's stockings, because mine were not very big.)
I don't remember ever having a Christmas tree at our house, but we always had one at school. We "pulled names" and each of us brought a gift for the student whose name he had pulled. We made decorations for the tree ourselves. For ornaments we cut bells and sleds, stars and candy canes, Santa faces and angels from red and green and gold construction paper, and we cut pages of paper from our writing tablets into strips, gluing the ends together to make interlocking loops to fashion "rope" or garland for our tree. We even made Japanese lanterns to hang on the tree. We made "icicles" by stringing short strands of popped corn. The teacher always furnished a fancy angel tree topper. The gifts we exchanged were usually things like a big (really big) Hershey bar or a pair of socks or a pair of mittens, sometimes a book. (That was always my favorite.)
On Christmas Eve, Mom made a pot of her special eggnog (only the grown-ups got to lace theirs with some of Nonc Senias' whiskey) and a huge pot of gumbo. Her favorite was wild duck gumbo with oysters. I don't ever remember having turkey for Christmas dinner. We usually had a couple or three big wild ring-necked Canadian geese, roasted to perfection, and rice and giblet dressing with oysters. There was always a big bowl of potato salad and a few cans of buttery petit pois, of course. Dee was the one who got to make the fruit salad (ambrosia). These were set on the table, right alongside a basket of Mom's homemade French bread. Only the grown-ups had wine. We kids had to settle for homemade lemonade or root beer.
She liked to have some little extras, too. I remember one year, her brother Joe and his hoity-toity wife, Leona and their three children, Marie, J. C., and Wanda, drove all the way from Houston to spend the Christmas holiday with us. When they came in Mom was frying some calves' brains, cut into bite-size pieces and dredged in seasoned cornmeal. Aunt Leona exclaimed "Oh, some fried oysters!" and she proceeded to gulp them down by the fistful. Mom let her eat her fill and then, very calmly said "Leona, I'm not sure I should tell you this - but those are not oysters, they are fried brains." Poor Aunt Leona immediately rushed outside to the porch, hung over the bannister, stuck her finger down her throat and got rid of those fried brains. That is one of the few times I heard my mother laugh out loud.
Christmas is and always will be Jesus' birthday, but Christmas today is not nearly as much fun as it was when I was a kid. I find it so sad that for some of us the true meaning of Christmas has been lost.
Copyright © 2001 Aline T. Meaux, Abbeville, LA
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